For a club who are extraordinarily successful, Manchester City can be ever so needy at times. Take the row with Opta’s statisticians over what constitutes a win. It is fair to say City won’t leave many records unbroken by the time they are finished. Why the rush?
Opta insist Pep Guardiola achieved his 200th win after 273 games in charge against West Ham on Saturday. This is already the lowest number of games any manager has required to reach that total in the history of English football’s top division.
Opta congratulated Guardiola on his feat accordingly. City’s sniffy response was to say the milestone was actually reached earlier in the FA Cup against Swansea, but their numbers include three victorious penalty shootouts.
Man City took issue with Opta’s claim that Pep Guardiola won his 200th game after 273 games in charge at the Etihad – City felt their manager had reached the landmark three games prior
They also disputed Opta’s declaration that the Swansea game was a record-breaking 15th straight win for City. The club claim that record fell in the 2017-18 season, when between August 26 and December 3, City recorded 20 consecutive wins.
One problem. The 12th game in City’s list was a goalless draw with Wolves in the Carabao Cup that ended in a 4-1 penalty shootout. Opta stopped counting, rightly, when the final whistle blew. City did not.
The club insist their stance is supported by ‘leading lawmakers and statisticians’.
Really? Who? Because in just about every football book on the shelves of just about any library, a game requiring a penalty shootout is a draw.
A win on penalties has never been, statistically, a win. The game, as we know it, is level and an artificial means of conclusion for logistical reasons is then implemented.
For a club who are so successful, City do come across as needy with their view on statistics
How this even ends up debated, heaven knows, but City felt strongly enough to enter talks on the process with Opta. Now plenty of fans are preparing to go into battle on City’s side.
What about the 1994 World Cup final. If that was a draw, how come Brazil got a trophy? And who is going to tell Sir Alex Ferguson that Manchester United only won a single Champions League final under his stewardship — with the 2008 victory on penalties over Chelsea being a draw?
This is a wilful misunderstanding of the way football works. There is an outcome, and there is a result. The outcome occurs out of necessity — the competition has to continue, one team have to receive the trophy.
The result is the score at the final whistle. The logistical appendage is entirely different. It is not a game of football. It is a means of deciding what happens next. And there are other ways.
So, did Italy win their 1968 European Championship semi-final with the Soviet Union? By Manchester City’s reckoning, they did. The game was played in Naples and ended 0-0. Yet the competition was very small back then, just four teams, with a tight schedule. There was no time for replays.
City claim Guardiola achieved his feat earlier, but their figures include three wins via shootouts
So Italy’s captain, Giacinto Facchetti, accompanied his opposite number down the tunnel to the dressing rooms, with two team administrators and the referee, Kurt Tschenscher, from Germany. A coin was produced and Facchetti called tails.
There were 70,000 people in the stadium above awaiting the outcome. Facchetti’s jubilant reappearance showed he had called correctly.
And that’s a win, yes? Italy won that match. Well, they must have done. They progressed. And progressing is winning, no matter the circumstances. Meaning Liverpool won their European Cup quarter-final against Cologne in 1964-65, too.
The teams had played home and away, both games ending goalless. A replay was arranged in Rotterdam, and that ended 2-2. Extra time couldn’t separate the teams, either, so it was decided the outcome would be settled by coin toss.
Ron Yeats, Liverpool’s captain, reached Belgian official Robert Schaut in the centre circle first. He said Liverpool wanted tails. Schaut obliged. The coin, tossed, then fell in a divot. It was tilted towards heads but Yeats smartly suggested a rerun.
Liverpool’s team of 1964-65, captained by Ron Yeats (pictured), beat Cologne in the European Cup quarter-finals after winning a coin toss – but is that really considered to be a win?
‘And the referee said, “You’re right, Mr Yeats”,’ he recalled. ‘I thought Wolfgang Overath, their captain, was going to hit him. He was going berserk because it was falling over on heads. Then the referee sent it up again and it came down tails.’
So maybe that’s Liverpool’s victory, the little spot of gamesmanship that Yeats indulged in to send his team through — to be beaten by Inter Milan — or was the 300 minutes of actual football the game, and the rest just some jiggery-pokery that happens when a tournament, and a season, is running out of time. Inter went through to the semi-finals on March 3 — Liverpool 21 days later.
Football is full of episodes like this which is why statisticians distinguish between the play and its artificial aftermath.
In 1954, Spain and Turkey were in a two-team qualifying group for the World Cup finals in Switzerland. Spain won 4-1 in Madrid, Turkey 1-0 in Istanbul. Incredibly, aggregate results were not being used, leaving them tied on two points each.
A play-off in Rome ended 2-2. At which point, Luigi Franco Gemma, a 14-year-old boy whose father worked at the stadium — and who was blind, so considered an honest arbiter — was summoned and drew lots, sending Turkey through.
Why do City seek instant gratification given their impressive run of victories this season?
And that was a win? The one conjured in an instant by a 14-year-old blind kid, of a different nationality?
So why so prickly? Nobody is trying to take records from Manchester City. Guardiola got there, didn’t he? The winning streak is ongoing, yes? And how much better that it sits, undisputed, no asterisks required.
Why the desperation for now, now, now? Why the instant gratification?
A match is a match. A penalty shootout is a penalty shootout. And a record should be a fact that cannot be argued. If it’s done right.
AT LEAST ANTONIO’S NOT IN A LAMBO…
Michail Antonio is likely to declare for Jamaica in time for the Gold Cup in the United States this summer.
The tournament is scheduled from July 10 to August 1, and Jamaica’s first match in CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying will be played in September.
For a player with recurring injury issues, the heavy travelling schedule and lack of rest time must trouble Antonio’s club, West Ham. Then again, as he has chosen in the past to spend his downtime driving a Lamborghini into a wall while dressed as a snowman, they might see this as keeping him out of harm’s way.
KOP INJURY CRISIS IS NOTHING COMPARED TO THOSE OF THE ONE-MAN TEAMS
Liverpool have been terribly unlucky with injuries this season. That is widely acknowledged.
Yet even while central defenders — and lately their understudies — have been blighted, other areas of Jurgen Klopp’s team remain strong. No club can boast a front three as dangerous as Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, who have featured in 74 of a possible 78 league games, or full-backs as productive as Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, who together have played in 50 of a possible 52 matches.
Liverpool were top of the league in January, with two midfielders at centre half; Manchester City are now 12 points clear without Sergio Aguero because their forward-midfield is so strong.
An injury crisis for a big club will never compare to the impact of one or two injuries down the table. Take Newcastle. At the time Callum Wilson tore a hamstring, in the 36th minute against Southampton on February 6, he had scored 10 league goals — or 41.6 per cent of Newcastle’s total for the season.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have been hit hard by injuries but he still has a plethora of options
And there is no one else. Joelinton has amassed seven goals, in all competitions, across the best part of two years. The last time Andy Carroll reached double figures in the Premier League was 2010-11. Dwight Gayle’s best return was seven with Crystal Palace in 2013-14.
Just one injury at a small club can disrupt progress. Think of Palace without Wilfried Zaha. They have won just three league games in which he has not played since September 24, 2016.
Even Leicester are struggling. They may be chasing a place in the Champions League but a spate of injuries at a crucial stage threatens to derail them again.
They have been without the first-choice back four on occasions, but now face losing James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, James Justin, Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana. The absence of any two of those players would spell trouble.
The biggest clubs may claim that five substitutes would have lightened the load, but not outside the elite. Who do Palace have who could allow them to rest Zaha, how do Newcastle replace Wilson?
If the best player is fit, he plays. If he is out, they struggle. Liverpool and Manchester City have options the majority do not possess.
FIT, LIGHTLY RACED AND WORLD CLASS, BALE COULD BE HUGE FOR SPURS
If Gareth Bale could not arrive at Tottenham match-fit for the Premier League — and that was always unlikely — this is the next-best scenario. That just at the point of a punishing season when legs are tiring and key players are succumbing to injury, Tottenham would have one of the world’s best players fit again, and lightly raced.
Six points off the Champions League places, with a game in hand on many rivals, Bale’s impact over the next two months could be huge.
However long it has taken to get to here, if engaged, there is not a team in the league that would not call on him. This could yet work.
Gareth Bale might not ever be fully fit for Spurs but he could yet play a massive role on loan
ITOJE’S DANCE ON THE EDGE WILL ALWAYS BE A HIGH-RISK GAME
Eddie Jones has defended Maro Itoje, who gave away five penalties against Wales on Saturday, taking his total for the tournament to 10 in three matches.
‘He is one of the best players in the world and plays the game on the edge,’ said Jones. ‘Sometimes they tend to over-referee him.’
Yet that will happen, on the edge. Dance along it long enough and eventually you step into thin air. The more time Itoje spends teetering, the likelier that will happen.
Jones appears to be arguing Itoje’s talent compensates — but serving up five penalties in a tight game means risk and reward are imbalanced. Whatever advantage Itoje brings to the team is lost.
We can debate, too, a sport in which the rules are so open to individual interpretation that in one game Itoje is the best player on the pitch and in another a liability — while playing exactly the same way. We can say it is a flaw that a captain’s armoury includes his ability to coerce a referee into seeing the game his way.
Yet that is how rugby is. Owen Farrell was criticised for not being more persuasive after wrong decisions by referee Pascal Gauzere. It seems farcical that the captain should be marked on his oratory powers. Yet if Itoje stays on the edge there will always be a chance England will lose an argument and fall.
The more time Maro Itoje spends playing on the edge, the more likely England will fall
LESSON FOR GOLFERS STEPPING INTO TIGER’S SHOES
A number of the field at the WGC-Workday Championship on Sunday wore red shirts and black trousers in honour of Tiger Woods.
Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood and Patrick Reed did so and all failed to make the top four. Coincidence? Let’s just say it’s not easy walking in Woods’ shoes — so many years with a target on your back.
Maybe putting on the clothes gave insight into what it is like in his world.
LATE ROEDER WAS A SMART PLAYER WHO NEVER GOT A CHASING
Bobby Campbell, the former Chelsea manager, said Glenn Roeder was one of his two favourite centre halves. Roeder died this week at the age of 65 and many of the tributes paid credit to his skills as coach and mentor.
Yet Campbell admired Roeder the player. ‘I never saw him get a chasing,’ he said. All defenders have their bad days, he explained, but Roeder was too intelligent for a horror show. ‘There were better defenders,’ added Campbell. ‘But he was the cleverest.’
His other favourite? Lawrie Madden, a member of the Howard Wilkinson-era Sheffield Wednesday team, for the same reason. Never got a chasing. And as a university lecturer and PR consultant, another smart guy.
Bobby Campbell remembers Glenn Roeder as a smart centre-half who ‘never got a chasing’
PROMOTION A FORMALITY FOR NOWICH… BUT RELEGATION SHOULDN’T BE
Beat Brentford at Carrow Road on Wednesday night and it will be hard to see anyone overtaking Norwich in the battle for Premier League promotion.
Let us hope they arrive with more ambition than the last time. Relegation shouldn’t be a formality.
SKINNER IS RIGHT ABOUT RUSSIA AT THE OLYMPICS – IT’S BUSINESS AS USUAL
Cyclist Callum Skinner, who won gold for Great Britain in the team sprint at the 2016 Olympics, is spot-on about Russian participation in Tokyo next summer.
The IOC have signed up for little more than a rebranding exercise, with Russia’s athletes competing under the flag and name of the ROC, the Russian Olympic Committee, rather than as neutrals.
‘The Olympic movement has been cheapened by this decision,’ said Skinner. ‘It will look like business as normal.’
That’s because it is, and the IOC has always cared more for business than sport.
Callum Skinner is right about Russia at the Olympics – it’s little more than a rebranding exercise